Early Turner watercolour bought for Bristol

A watercolour of the Avon Gorge, painting by JMW Turner when he was only 16, has been bought by Bristol Museum and Art Gallery with help from the Art Fund.

JMW Turner, The Mouth of the Avon, near Bristol, seen from the Cliffs below Clifton, 1791–1792 © Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

JMW Turner, The Mouth of the Avon, near Bristol, seen from the Cliffs below Clifton, 1791–1792

This lively landscape was painted while Turner was accompanying family friends on a holiday to Bristol. It is one of the earliest products of the artist's life-long obsession with the Avon landscape – a fascination which would give the area an iconic status in Romantic painting.

The work was acquired for £40,000 at auction earlier this year, and had been kept in a private collection since 1951. The Art Fund provided £20,000 towards the cost, while the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery and the Peter John Blyth Art Fund each contributed a further £10,000.

Julie Finch, head of Bristol’s Museums, Galleries and Archives, said: “We hope that this acquisition will be of great interest to our national and international visitors. The watercolour will help to explain and illustrate the aesthetic and historical relevance of the Bristol landscape and will put Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and the city on the map as a destination for Turner enthusiasts.” 

The painting

During the course of his stay with the Narraway family, friends of his father, the young Turner became enamoured with the Avon landscape. His frequent visits to the gorge earned him the nickname 'Prince of the Rocks'. Though young, the aspiring artist was not a complete unknown. One of his watercolours – A View of the Archbishop's Palace, Lambeth – had already been exhibited at the Royal Academy in April 1790, the month he turned 15.

This early work shows some of the traits that would come to characterise the mature Turner: his manipulation of topography to heighten the drama of the scene, the Italianate light suffusing the landscape, and the introduction of a ship to imply a narrative. 

 

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